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Modern Mythology

Modern Mythology

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Published by Dusty Deal

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Published by: Dusty Deal on Sep 08, 2011
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10/19/2013

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MODERN MYTHOLOGYDEDICATIONDedicated to the memory of John Fergus McLennan.INTRODUCTIONIt may well be doubted whether works of controversy serve any usefulpurpose. 'On an opponent,' as Mr. Matthew Arnold said, 'one never doesmake any impression,' though one may hope that controversy sometimesilluminates a topic in the eyes of impartial readers. The pages whichfollow cannot but seem wandering and desultory, for they are a reply to abook, Mr. Max Muller's Contributions to the Science of Mythology, inwhich the attack is of a skirmishing character. Throughout more thaneight hundred pages the learned author keeps up an irregular fire at theideas and methods of the anthropological school of mythologists. Thereply must follow the lines of attack.Criticism cannot dictate to an author how he shall write his own book.Yet anthropologists and folk-lorists, 'agriologists' and 'Hottentotic'1
 
students, must regret that Mr. Max Muller did not state their generaltheory, as he understands it, fully and once for all. Adversaries rarelysucceed in quite understanding each other; but had Mr. Max Muller madesuch a statement, we could have cleared up anything in our position whichmight seem to him obscure.Our system is but one aspect of the theory of evolution, or is but theapplication of that theory to the topic of mythology. The archaeologiststudies human life in its material remains; he tracks progress (andoccasional degeneration) from the rudely chipped flints in the ancientgravel beds, to the polished stone weapon, and thence to the ages ofbronze and iron. He is guided by material 'survivals'--ancient arms,implements, and ornaments. The student of Institutions has a similarmethod. He finds his relics of the uncivilised past in agriculturalusages, in archaic methods of allotment of land, in odd marriage customs,things rudimentary--fossil relics, as it were, of an early social andpolitical condition. The archaeologist and the student of Institutionscompare these relics, material or customary, with the weapons, pottery,implements, or again with the habitual law and usage of existing savageor barbaric races, and demonstrate that our weapons and tools, and ourlaws and manners, have been slowly evolved out of lower conditions, evenout of savage conditions.The anthropological method in mythology is the same. In civilisedreligion and myth we find rudimentary survivals, fossils of rite andcreed, ideas absolutely incongruous with the environing morality,philosophy, and science of Greece and India. Parallels to these things,so out of keeping with civilisation, we recognise in the creeds and ritesof the lower races, even of cannibals; but _there_ the creeds and ritesare _not_ incongruous with their environment of knowledge and culture.2
 
There they are as natural and inevitable as the flint-headed spear ormarriage by capture. We argue, therefore, that religions and mythicalfaiths and rituals which, among Greeks and Indians, are inexplicablyincongruous have lived on from an age in which they were natural andinevitable, an age of savagery.That is our general position, and it would have been a benefit to us ifMr. Max Muller had stated it in his own luminous way, if he wished tooppose us, and had shown us where and how it fails to meet therequirements of scientific method. In place of doing this once for all,he often assails our evidence, yet never notices the defences of ourevidence, which our school has been offering for over a hundred years. Heattacks the excesses of which some sweet anthropological enthusiasts havebeen guilty or may be guilty, such as seeing totems wherever they findbeasts in ancient religion, myth, or art. He asks for definitions (as oftotemism), but never, I think, alludes to the authoritative definitionsby Mr. McLennan and Mr. Frazer. He assails the theory of fetishism as ifit stood now where De Brosses left it in a purely pioneer work--or,rather, where he understands De Brosses to have left it. One might aswell attack the atomic theory where Lucretius left it, or the theory ofevolution where it was left by the elder Darwin.Thus Mr. Max Muller really never conies to grips with his opponents, andhis large volumes shine rather in erudition and style than in method andsystem. Anyone who attempts a reply must necessarily follow Mr. MaxMuller up and down, collecting his scattered remarks on this or thatpoint at issue. Hence my reply, much against my will, must seemdesultory and rambling. But I have endeavoured to answer with some kindof method and system, and I even hope that this little book may be usefulas a kind of supplement to Mr. Max Muller's, for it contains exact3

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